Understanding deliveries

All about logistics

Like every online retailer in the country, we have a problem. Even how best to describe it is difficult, but after 16 years of trying to explain it to various people, I'm going to do my best and tell it like it is here. This isn't meant to offend anybody, it's just an attempt to explain something that seems to be impossible for a lot of people to accept or understand.

We have a problem, and that problem is that people have a misconception about how delivery systems, or logistics, work. We're not trying to be clever, or say you're not, but we know how these things work and most of you, well to be blunt, simply do not. 

We're posting this because of an increase in unacceptable abuse and accusations from customers by many online retailers, including ourselves. Thankfully these issues are rare, but are increasing.

Let me explain, or at least try to, why you're probably wrong, what you need to understand, and how you can help.

You order an item, and you expect it in a few day's time, maybe even the next day. And a lot of the time that's how it works. Like a million other things in life it's one of those things we just take for granted, like your bus being on time (more or less), or the local supermarket having bread in stock, or your filling station not running out of fuel, or the cash machine having money in it when you need it. You get the idea, 

Most of the time it all works fine and that's great, it's what we all expect. But sometimes things go wrong. And when deliveries go wrong this is a huge problem for online retailers, not because we can't do something to rectify it - usually we can - but because people simply do not understand what is involved. Here's some of the most common issues:

When was it posted?

First of all I'm going to explain why your item wasn't necessarily dispatched when you expected it to be. It's most likely because you have a misconception of how logistics works.

An order comes in and is processed - payment details checked to verify it's not a scam, clearance given to accept and pack the order, the order is then prepared for packing and posting and allocated to the customer who ordered it.

The payment side of it tends to happen automatically for the most part, but sometimes additional checks are required, and for obvious reasons these are not shared with the buyer.

It's not obvious? OK, say your credit card is stolen and used to make an online purchase. All we get to see is your order details, not your card details, but the order will be flagged if, for example, the name and address are different to that of the cardholder. It could be that somebody is buying for a friend and having the order posted directly to them - or it could be a stolen credit card.

If it's YOUR card that's been stolen YOU need these safety checks in place to ensure that nobody else is using it. Generally we're not involved in this, it's all done by the banks and the payment processors (e.g. PayPal). But it may slow your order down, and therefore may delay dispatch.

Now, assuming everything's fine your order might be processed and ready to be packed in relatively short time if it's a quiet period. Or it may be a day or so later if we're busy. At this point it's worth bearing in mind that the vast majority of online retailers are not megaliths like Amazon, with huge warehouses, thousands of staff and delivery vans waiting, they're often small family businesses with just enough staff to cope.

Because hiring staff is expensive, and it costs tens of thousands of pounds a year just to hire ONE extra member of staff, money that can only be found if we sell enough goods to cover that cost. This is important, and I'll explain why later. 

The next thing to understand, yet as incredible as it seems, many people don't, is that the internet works for 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. But humans do not. So we operate general office hours. So no, if you try to call or send an email over the weekend or in the evening then you're not going to get a response straight away, it's not going to happen until we get more important issues resolved - such as dispatching orders, because you wouldn't expect your order to be dispatched a day late because we had too many messages and phone calls to respond to would you?

But what this also means is if you order at 4 p.m. and pay for Express Next Day delivery, and expect your order on your doorstep the next morning there's a very good chance you're going to be disappointed. Because no retailer is going to pack up your parcel and run down to the post office just in time before it closes. It simply doesn't work like that - much to the surprise of many people!

This is a classic example of what I mean by people not understanding what is involved. First of all there is (hopefully!) a constant flow of orders coming in at all hours. We do not simply stop whatever it is we're doing to pick up your order, pack it and run off to the post office with it.

Our deadline is around 2 p.m. weekdays. That is the latest time we can accept an order for same day dispatch, and that's not a guaranteed service because it depends how busy we are. It's as simple as that. 

This has to be done at a certain time because, like most online retailers, our mail is collected and it needs to be ready. This means that ALL our orders need to be packed, weighed, labelled, bagged up into mailbags ready for collection. Then there is an amount of paperwork to be done in time for the collection driver, so that he knows what he is collecting and we know what we are dispatching.

So hopefully you now understand why we don't simply jump up and grab your order, pack it and run of to the post office with it as soon as it comes in. Because we can't!

The problem, we think, is many people sell personal goods or even have a small part time business on sites like eBay, and that's how they operate, they wrap up their orders and pop down to the post office with them every day, so if an order comes in late in the day it's not a problem. But online retailers do not and can not work like that.

Sadly this doesn't stop people coming along and placing an order late in the day, paying for Express delivery then complaining when it doesn't arrive on the day they expect it.

Weekends are even worse, because some people order on a Saturday and expect delivery on a Sunday, despite the fact that Royal Mail have never delivered on a Sunday in their centuries-old existence. The bad news is their order most likely won't even be dispatched until Monday because that's the earliest we can send it. But that's the norm, it's not a fault on our part, it's not "poor service".

The galling thing is we get accusations from a minority of people who think we're ripping them off because we "took their money" for Next Day delivery and didn't deliver - it's as absurd as it sounds, not least because the payment for such services goes to the carrier in any event, not to us. We even subsidise our Premium and Express services in many cases so we're even paying part of the fee for you. It's also totally unacceptable behaviour.

My item should have arrived by....

This is a common one. And it's completely wrong. And yet it's one of the most contentious issues we face, and one that we face a lot of aggravation for, and again it's all because people don't understand logistics.

What's almost laughable about those who come looking for an argument is they're often insisting they understand how our business logistics works better than we do! I say "almost" laughable because many of the people who fall into this bracket can be arrogant and abusive, and it's no laughing matter.

If you cannot be polite and civil, please do not contact us. You would expect it from us and all we ask is the same in return.

The main thing you need to accept is that if something has gone wrong it's probably nobody's fault, and if an item is delayed en route it most certainly isn't our fault - for starters, we do not operate a delivery service so no, we're not making excuses - we don't need to.

The first point to understand here is there is no set delivery date. Never has been, never will be, and the first reason for that is we don't run a delivery service so we're certainly not going to guarantee or "promise" a delivery date based on another company's services.

Delivery times, where quoted, are simply given as an ESTIMATE. Again, a lot of people do not seem to understand the word "estimate". Royal Mail describe such dates as a delivery AIM. They are NOT set in stone, they are NOT guaranteed. They can't be.

Because there are a hundred reasons why a mail delivery might be held up. It could be a breakdown of the delivery van, of the wagon that takes the mail from our sorting centre to yours, or any in between.

It could be staff shortages - more on that below.

It could be illness; it could be mail caught in a backlog (again, it could be traffic hold ups or delays due to bad weather or driving conditions; more on that later); it could have been misdirected to the wrong area; it could have been delivered to the wrong address (and the way some people write or format their addresses I'm amazed half of them actually get there), it could be a whole host of reasons.

I'll be totally frank here. Because of the hassle we get over what people consider to be late deliveries - they're not late because there is no set delivery time remember - if I had my way I'd leave it up to the buyer to arrange their own delivery at times if I could, although in practise it wouldn't work because we'd have a host of different carrier calling to collect at different times of the day, all with their own paperwork to complete and all with their own collection times. It would be a logistical nightmare. 

There's more to this particular problem too. When people say it "should have arrived by..." it's often difficult to understand how they have arrived at the date they did - we had one gentleman recently who told us his order "should have arrived by now", 5 days after he ordered it, which may not seem that unusual a claim - but he lives in Belgium!

Buyers will often seem to pluck a date out of the air, but the earliest an order "should arrive by" depends on the service chosen, the time the order was placed and does not include weekends, bank holidays or the date of order. Or any potential delays. For overseas customers it could be the longstanding, ongoing backlog at customs or the lack of available flights following the reductions made as a result of the pandemic. Oddly, many people do not seem to understand that all of these things will and do cause delays and also have a knock on effect. They think we're making it up!

Delivery dates are ESTIMATES remember, and the days shown are counted from the first day following dispatch, not the date of order. So if you ordered on a Saturday night, the day of dispatch will be Monday and an Economy 3-5 working day delivery will be delivered between Thursday - the third working day - and the following Monday - the fifth working day. IF there are no delivery delays.

Staff shortages, Backlogs and delivery delays.

Regarding staff shortages, when the pandemic hit, it left a lot of businesses in lockdown and those who were allowed to keep trading - such as Royal Mail - were very badly hit by staff shortages and illness. This situation was made worse when social distancing measures at work had to be put in place.

Obviously this much disruption was always going to hit services like deliveries badly. Then the problem got much worse, because the lockdowns meant millions more people were now buying online. As a result the carriers, including Royal Mail, had even more work to do with less staff.

Now think about it, you're normally busy at work. Then half the staff are laid off, furloughed, but you still have the same amount of work to do. If you only just got your workload completed throughout the day before all this happened, you're now probably not likely to. So a backlog starts to build up.

All of a sudden the country enters a lockdown phase, everyone starts buying online and there are now tens of millions MORE parcels to deliver. So your backlog gets even bigger. This is where we were in the autumn of 2020. Then Black Friday sales and the build up to Christmas sales, almost all of which were being done online, meant that the backlog of mail got even bigger.

I've seen for myself a sorting office with just THREE staff working, packed right to the ceiling with thousands of grey mail sacks, each containing what could be up to a thousand parcels and letters. I've seen a major sorting office with 17 articulated wagons queued up in the streets outside, full of mail, because there's no space left in the sorting office to unload them and/or no staff to do it. 

Incidentally another accusation that's often thrown at us is were using covid as an excuse when items do not turn up. We have the biggest single worldwide crisis since the Second World War, and for most of you the only one of it's type you have even seen, with massive disruption everywhere, carrier staff off sick and furloughed (and many even fallen victim to the virus), services decimated, flights decimated, backlogs the like of which have never been seen before, and yet many of you don't think it's a problem or has affected the mail service at all. 

Well I'm sorry, but if you simply stop for a minute and think about how absurd that sounds...I'm really lost for words. I can only repeat that it's the biggest worldwide crisis that most of us have ever seen and if you don't think it's a problem for logistics then you must be from another planet. We don't need excuses, it's happening right in front of you. Tens of millions of covid testing packs have also had to be ferried around the country in the mail which again further adds to the pressure they have been under, and remember this is all still ongoing. A large number of people had the strange misconception that because the lockdowns have ended everything must be running as normal. For the life of me I cannot imagine why anybody would think like that, but it's just not true.

Now here's another important question for you. What do you think would happen to the mail that arrived at that sorting office the earliest? Well I'll tell you. It sits at the bottom of a huge pile of mailbags, possibly for weeks on end, because there is literally zero chance of the staff available ever reaching that far down the pile to open that bag and sort it.

So if we assume that bag is one of ours, we could have literally hundreds of items of our mail in that bag that could sit there for weeks on end because there simply isn't the capacity to deal with it. Obviously, most of the rest of the mail in that pile is going to be delayed to varying degrees too. 

This is exactly the sort of scenario that was happening all over the country last year, and on a smaller scale it happens all the time, especially just after a bank holiday when there is a build up of mail from the long weekend, at times like Christmas, Black Friday sales, even just busy weekends. 

This is why, if your mail is late it's not likely to be a day or two late, it could be weeks. It is very important to understand this. It is also important to understand that when you ask a retailer where your item is, he doesn't know. He can't know. If your item is at the bottom of a pile like that, how would anybody know? Do you actually believe it's been possible for every single item of mail to be checked and scanned into the system? For one thing, it's not scanned until those sacks are opened, but quite aside from that, Royal Mail only scan an item at the point of collection and at the point of delivery in most cases, so a tracking number - for the few of you that choose a tracked option - won't tell you, me, or anybody else where your item is.

In fact the only real purpose of tracking numbers is to show proof of delivery. They were never really intended as a tool for the public to track their items. 

"We're crooks" (and other abuse)

This is a huge issue, and it's mostly what prompted me to write this today following a recent phone call from a customer who wanted to know exactly that, where his item was, and "why we hadn't delivered it when we said 3 days". 

First of all we didn't say "3 days" because as stated at the top of this article, we don't operate a delivery company so we never quote a delivery date, never have, never will. I didn't get as far as explaining this to this chap, because he then launched into a tirade of abuse and accused us of being "crooks". 

Apart from being totally out of order and distressing, because we all know how hard we all work here, it's also so far off kilter that it beggars belief. But it does show how people's minds work when it comes to logistics. 

It has cost us tens of thousands of pounds to set up this family business in the first instance, and the lengths we have gone to, to ensure you are safe includes bringing Paypal on board. Paypal have one of the most comprehensive customer security services in the business, and if we don't deliver you can claim and will get a full refund. 

Secondly, it takes a great deal of time and effort to investigate a missing item. This includes responding to your messages, dealing with your claims and chasing up your order with the carrier, even though we're never likely to find it. The result is that we often lose both your payment, which will be refunded, AND the goods, which are presumably lost. This may come as a shock to many, but they're not actually going to go out and look for it. Think "needle" and "haystack" - with millions of items of mail moving through the system every single day you can imagine how impossible it would be for them to actually stop everything and go look for your missing item,

I say "presumably" because we know many goods are simply delayed, which of course we've been over. Yet in 16 years we have never, not once, had a buyer who has come back to us later and told us that the item he claimed a refund for because it was lost has since turned up. If you keep an item after obtaining a refund it theft, plain and simple. That item belongs to us once you have been refunded. 

This is another big problem for retailers because most people do not leave enough time for the item to arrive. If it's stuck at the bottom of a backlog pile, or has been misdirected to the wrong sorting office it could be several weeks before it finally gets to where it's supposed to be. Yet most people seem to assume that if it doesn't arrive within a few days they should be refunded immediately. It's ridiculous.

Consideration needs to be given to the fact that most small retailers are not raking in millions of pounds, losses are very expensive when the goods have been lost AND the payment has to be refunded, and all we ask is that you allow a reasonable amount of time when reporting the matter. 

As such, Royal Mail's terms are that "an item is considered to be missing once 10 working days following the last expected delivery date has passed". This means that if you choose the 3-5 working day Economy service, the latest delivery date is the 5th working day and a claim can be made 10 working days after that. 

"That's over 3 weeks!", I hear you gasp. Yes it is - that's because when item have been delayed for any reason it can take several weeks for them to get back on track, not a day or two as most people assume. 

It's often not worth filing a claim with the carrier. Claim forms are delibrately complex to keep the number of claims down, a lot do not get paid out at all, and when Royal Mail DO pay a claim we have to wait months for compensation. However they do NOT repay postage costs, and they only pay the trade value of the item - what we paid for it - not the retail value; what we sold it for. 

So for anybody to suggest that we're doing it just to gain from it by ripping you off is not only completely preposterous and incredibly insulting, it's downright disgusting. If we pay a member of staff let's say £10 an hour to keep it simple, it can easily use up a couple of hours of time dealing with a missing item claim, so we're £20 down to begin with, on top of the losses outlined above!

It's also extremely counter productive, and we seriously have an awful lot more better things to do, so for those of you who fall into that bracket, please keep your insults and accusations to yourself, it's not only a thousand miles off track, it's disgusting and it's downright stupid. It's simply not worth the hassle - the vast majority of our sales are sim cards priced well under £10 - we have absolutely nothing to gain by sending countless hours listing our thousands of gold sims on the website then not sending them to you when you purchase, only to have the hassle of dealing with a missing item claim and the hassle of your abusive phone calls and messages. 

And finally, no we're NOT lying when we tell you that items do go mising in the post. This is another huge misconception that for some reason people seem to think is just some sort of excuse. I'll say it as often as I need to - We do not run a delivery company so we do not need an excuse. Just google it - you find countless stories of just how much mail goes missing - in 2018 for example over a quarter of a million claims for missing parcels were issued, and over a million items registered missing in total if you include letter post (all our sim cards use letter post, this is why we use Royal Mail as they're the only carrier that handle letters). 

Yes, OVER A MILLION MISSING ITEMS! Over £4 million paid in compensation. That's just in ONE year. And I can assure you that the true figure is much more, because as I explained, it's simply not worth claiming for most items. You think we're going to spend an hour filling in a claim form for a sim card? 

We pack, we post and we trust the carrier to get it to you, but beyond that we have no control over what they do or how long it might take to get your order to you. We've never made false promises so please don't make false accusations. As I hope this article proves, we're upfront and honest about a system that most of you simply do not understand. If you have a problem we'll try to help as much as we can but we will not tolerate abuse and accusations. 

Think about it, if you send your granny her birthday gift in the post and it doesn't get there, could YOU tell her where it is or why it hasn't been delivered? Why do you think it's any different for us? 

Summary

So please remember if your item is taking longer than you think it should have, there could be a hundred reasons for that. If you've given a valid email address and you've received a dispatch email then your order has been dispatched. 

- It is not the seller's fault if an item has been lost or delayed. We have no control over any of the delivery couriers and we only employ them on your behalf.

- The seller really can't tell you where your item is. Items are only tracked at the point of collection and the point of delivery.

- Items DO get delayed and can take weeks to get back on track rather than just a day or two.

- There ARE currently severe delays in many areas and yes, Covid IS a large part of the problem.

- Items DO get lost in the mail - literally millions of them every year.

- We wil deal with the issue on a case by case basis but there is no quick fix when these issues occur. 

- You must allow a reasonable amount of time before your item is declared missing - at least 10 working days from the point of expected delivery as defined by Royal Mail. This forms part of the terms and conditions of sale.

- You can help by treating us as you would expect to be treated yourself, i.e. politely and courteously. You must NOT be abusive, arrogant or accusatory to retailers and their staff. We're all doing our best, all we can do is pack and post, we lose a lot more than you do when an item goes missing and the last thing we want and need is aggravation, accusations and abuse. Finally I must add that if anybody is guilty of such actions they will be immediately blocked from the site, and from our contact email account and phone service without further notice.

Thank you, and congratulations if you made it this far.